Meet The Latest Victims Of Political Correctness

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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The uproar over liberal writer Jonathan Chait’s denunciation of political correctness resembles a horror film in which a mad scientist is devoured by a monster of his own creation. (Am I permitted to use a male pronoun to describe a scientist, even a mad one?)

White liberals have for years smeared political opponents as racist, arguing for example that racism was the “entire key to the rise of the Republican Party from the mid-sixties through the nineties.”

Look hard enough on Twitter and you’ll find white liberals lecturing minority conservatives about the realities of race in America. In important magazines you’ll find white liberals expressing deep concern that some of the black people who actually live in Ferguson engage in self-criticism of their community, writing piously, “It’s the return of a phenomenon that is referred to by African-American historians as the ‘politics of respectability.'”

This piece appeared in The New Republic, but didn’t make it into the magazine’s recent “reflection” on its legacy of racism.

A left-wing academic unsympathetic to Chait’s brand of neoliberalism — “Jon Chait is an asshole. He’s wrong” — recounted seeing “white, privileged, and educated” students alienate basically progressive black and Hispanic potential allies for innocent verbal slips that were blown up into full-fledged thought crimes.

It was inevitable that the oppressed in whose names these white liberals mansplain and whitesplain would take this logic, such as it is, to the next level.

Soon even mainstream liberal columnists find themselves staring into an abyss of incomprehensible terminology about intersectionality, women with penises, men with vaginas and humans who believe they are partially non-human. (Though probably still more human than human fetuses, at least in terms of human rights.)

Chait himself isn’t all sweetness and light. He has no problem issuing sweeping denunciations of people who disagree with him, frequently operating with a presumption of bad faith. That’s why so many conservatives are arguing that he is seeking an exemption now that he and his friends are experiencing such treatment at the hands of people to their left. (Chait protests that this a misreading of his original piece.)

It’s possible to nod in agreement when Chait writes, “Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate,” while recognizing he’s done the same thing to people to his right.

Chait once generously allowed that a conservative writer of my acquaintance “opposes slavery and legal segregation,” probably “abhors racial discrimination, and believes in his heart full economic and social equality for African-Americans would be a blessing,” but still maintained his criticisms of President Obama were redolent of “a southern white reactionary enraged that a calm, dignified, educated black man has failed to prostrate himself.”

Schadenfreude was the natural response to the political correctness kerfuffle, but perhaps not the right one. For every intelligent response to Chait’s commentary, there were several more that amounted to “La, la, la, white man, I can’t hear you!”

That’s the trouble with responding to racial injustice by sorting everyone into victim and oppressor groups. Eventually, you start to sound like the bigots you hoped to fight.

Political correctness is to empathy, mutual respect and human decency as Marxism is to compassion. Both transform noble impulses into joyless acts of ideological coercion.

Decency dictates refraining from the use of racial slurs, at the bare minimum. Political correctness demands not decency but conformity.

Consider the concept of “checking your privilege.” It is a useful exercise if what it means is that I as a middle-class white man should consider the fact that there are things about being a poor black woman that I don’t understand.

What is less valid is to use “checking your privilege” as a sophisticated euphemism for “Shut up, white person I disagree with.”

“Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree,” Chait writes. That’s mostly true, though as Ross Douthat observes, both played a role in causing the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman to move in a very short period of time from being an acceptable position for a Democratic president of the United States to an unacceptable position for a CEO of a tech company.

But with America’s white majority aging and shrinking, saying that white people should in effect shut up isn’t likely to have the same effect in the country at large as on a college campus. If arguments don’t need to be answered, if everything is a matter of self-interest and nothing a matter of the common good, if it all comes down to exercising power on behalf of your group, what is to stop whites from consciously exercising such power on their own behalf as the left often reminds us they did for most of American history?

It is telling that the new white racists increasingly employ multiculturalist tropes even as they inveigh against “cultural Marxism.” This is ugly stuff. But racial harmony and justice are hard enough work, forget racial masochism.

If we go down this road, things will end badly for liberals, conservatives, whites, people of color — everyone.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.